Neck guards will become mandatory for all Ontario junior hockey officials starting next month, the Ontario Hockey Association ruled Wednesday night.
The move is a response to the serious injury of Stratford-area linesman Kevin Brown, whose throat was slashed by a skate blade during a Dec. 29 game in Woodstock as he broke up a fight.
"One of our mandates as the caretaker of junior hockey in Ontario is to ensure that our players, and our officials, are as safe as possible," said Dick Woods, a spokesperson for the association, which governs junior hockey in the province.
Neck guards have been mandatory for players since the start of the 2008-2009 season.
Officials are encouraged to wear neck guards until Feb. 1. After that, they'll be mandatory.
Brown, 25, had been breaking up a fight between two players from Junior C teams from New Hamburg and Woodstock when one player's skate slashed through his carotid artery. Team trainers and an off-duty nurse helped Brown until paramedics arrived.
The OHA is an umbrella organization for junior-level hockey in Ontario below the Junior A level.
OHA President Brent Ladds said he's been in touch with Brown's family, which is dealing with the injury privately with Brown's medical team.
He said Brown is "a really good young fellow" and everyone in the hockey world and beyond "just continue to say our prayers." The Stratford Referees Association, which handles area minor and junior games, now asks all on-ice officials to wear neck guards.
BNQ-certified neck protectors, which minor hockey players in Ontario must wear, are made of ballistic nylon or similar material.
"The injury hits home with officials in every sport," said Stratford Referees Association president Aaron Chadwick.